Red Cross Shelter Exercise

Once I joined the Wireless Society of Southern Maine, I quickly learned that there was more to amateur radio than the rag chew (chatting) and just staying connected. I learned that public service is a huge part of the hobby, if one is interested. Coming from, and even missing the fire service, this intrigued me. However, my occupational and now family obligations that had me walk away from, and continue to shy away from the fire service many years ago had me trepidatious to sign up for their Emergency Communications group, WS1EC. The good news is, despite my not officially signing up, they don’t seem to mind my pitching in to help when I can be available.

I couldn’t pass up the chance of seeing my old school. No, not where I went to school, where I had worked as a Technology Support Technician. The club was to be the communications team or liaison between the American Red Cross and the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency for an exercise that would be held at the Westbrook High School and Westbrook Regional Vocational Center. I knew this building well, and looked forward to maybe seeing some familiar faces. Upon arrival, I was pleased to reacquaint with the head of maintenance. What I didn’t expect was to see an old friend, Ron Jones! I had supported him when he was Deputy Chief for the City of Westbrook. Now, he works for the CCEMA, and is just as warm and jovial as ever.

The Briefing with the Wireless Society of Southern Maine

We were briefed on the exercise. Jim from our club was the safety officer for the exercise. Roger lead the charge at the shelter with Anne, Pete and me; while Tim lead operations back at the CCEMA Bunker with CJ and Rory. Roger gave us a rundown of how the packet radio software FLDIGI interfaced with his equipment, before the exercise started.

Roger’s Rolling Ham Shack and Packet Station

At go-time, he pulled up his rolling ham shack out front of the school where we’d have a clear shot at the sky towards the bunker. Someone from the Red Cross would run up to the car with a paper to be transcribed and sent over the air to the Bunker. I was one of two people who brought our handheld radios, which as a new and excited ham finds odd, so I would radio ahead when we’d be starting a data transmission, and provide progress reports on the upload and the exercise in general. The Bunker would acknowledge receipt, and send any follow-ups data in response as needed.

The first thing the Red Cross ran out to us was a full page list of medical equipment and medications at various quantities and dosages. We had a couple of kinks to work out with the equipment, and it took a long time to transcribe the data by hand, cramped in a car with a laptop. By the time it was finished, sent and acknowledged, and they ran out the second document, the exercise was over.

The Debriefing with the CCEMA and WSSM

At the debriefing lunch, we provided some feedback that they need to give us the digital copy by thumb drive or network, if the source is already digitized. We should probably have our equipment set up, tested and trained with, as well. But then, this is why we do these exercises: to learn and prepare.

Update: Since the exercise, we started planning go-boxes with radio, TNC and computer; all will be homogenous and everyone familiarized with the setup. I’ve also since learned about weather fax, and wonder if we could fax a page over the air to save transcription and confirmation time.

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